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Posted at 11:36 AM ET, 02/16/2012

Warm winter may ease stress on pets

D’Argo. during Snowpocalypse. Dec 19, 2009. Submitted by homemom
There’s no doubt some snow lovers resent this winter’s warmth and lack of precipitation. But despite our own preferences for warm weather, our pets may be enjoying it more than we know.

Pets can play host to a range of wintertime threats. Some, like frost bite, are familiar to humans, while others – getting road salt stuck between the pads of their feet – are unique to pets.

With recent temperatures dipping back and forth around the freezing mark and a possible winter storm on the way, pets may need a little extra help to make it through the final weeks of winter.

The snow towers above a dog in Fairfax Station during Snowmageddon. Submitted by jwg9004
Even though their wild ancestors were well-adapted to the outdoors, many domesticated dogs and cats – especially those in urban areas – are used to a regulated indoor climate. This makes them just as vulnerable as humans when they venture into a more typical D.C. winter.

Exposure to cold evening temperatures, messy wintry mixes, large snowstorms and occasional below-zero wind chill factors can cause hypothermia, frost bite, dehydration, lethargy, arthritis pain and a higher chance of catching a cold.

Darkness means less time and exercise outdoors for dogs and other pets, which can dampen their mood and increase their weight level. A 2009 survey in the United Kingdom found that pets, like humans, may even be susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Northern latitudes receive far fewer daylight hours and less sunlight in winter (Washington, D.C. gets about 15 hours on the summer solstice compared to about 9.5 hours on the winter solstice). Since sunlight decreases the production of the “sleep hormone” melatonin in mammals, less sunlight may potentially lead to sleepiness, lethargy and even depression in both pets and humans.

But pets also contend with many issues we humans don’t think much about, such as getting road salt wedged between their toes, becoming stuck beneath the hood of a warm car, being poisoned by licking spilled antifreeze and having frozen water in our water bowls. As many dog owners noted during Snowmageddon, it can be hard for dogs to simply find a place to use the bathroom during major snowstorms.

Luckily, most pets have someone to take care of them, and the pet owners among us can give back to our pets by following a few simple tips.

Cat “Maxine” photographed after Snowmageddon in Washington Grove, Md. Submitted by ajanusM.
Wipe off a pet’s feet and belly with a towel before they come inside, especially if it snows or rains again this winter; road salt, sand and ice can become wedged in their paws.

Make sure that pets are kept indoors during wintry weather, but take advantage of warm days and keep your pets busy with activities to prevent them from getting bored. Dogs might enjoy playing outside and going for longer walks as days lengthen, while cats can be entertained indoors. Larger, longer-haired animals (think Siberian huskies) can comfortably spend a little more time in colder temperatures than smaller, shorter-haired animals (think cats and Chihuahuas).

And of course the best tip of all is to keep pets with you. In other words, if you are cold, most likely your pet is too.

How have your pets fared with warmer temperatures and little snow this winter? What can you do for them during these last weeks of winter? Leave a comment below.

More winter-weather pet tips:


The Weather Channel

The Humane Society

Vet Medicine

By  |  11:36 AM ET, 02/16/2012

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